If you had known that a 30-point gap between Rangers and Devils existed in the standings before Friday night’s Battle of the Hudson at the Garden, watching the game, you would have had every reason to believe the New Jersey. had this advantage.
The Devils, who haven’t played a meaningful game in the second half of a season since 2017-18, carried the game, outscoring the Blueshirts 26-12 in a full 40 minutes, by the 11:11 mark of the first period at the 11:22 mark of the third.
New Jersey generated the most dangerous chances, most often in a rush, while the Rangers were relegated to nil and finished forays into the offensive zone, rarely able to own the puck under the hash marks, unable to cycling, poor at their work in the neutral zone, and generally unable to make life difficult for a dodgy defense and vulnerable young keeper Nico Daws. The power play was inept.
And even …
At the other end was Igor Shesterkin. That’s why in the end it was 3-1 for Rangers, who got more than they deserved from that last game at home before a tough four-game trip through the Central Time Zone took hold. begins Sunday in Winnipeg.
Whether you believe Rangers 35-15-5 resounding success is sustainable depends almost entirely on Shesterkin’s ability to carry his Hart Trophy-worthy performance to the finish line. Dominik Hasek once carried an understaffed Sabers team to the conference final in 1998 and the Stanley Cup final in 1999. We know full well what Henrik Lundqvist did for the Rangers.
“Seriously, how many great saves, grade A chances, breakaways?” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant asked rhetorically. “He is incredible.”
Post Sports+ members, register ask Mollie Walker to text you the final word on Rangers and respond with your thoughts and questions. Not yet a Sports+ member? Try it now.
This has been the theme of the season, with the 26-year-old Russian acting as an individual antibody to underlying numbers and analytical analysis – a little too much for the coach’s taste.
“Too many nights,” he said. “More times than I like.”
The game was a surprisingly low-energy affair, the rivalry that once burned through the Martin Brodeur-Mike Richter-Henrik Lundqvist eras now all but muted. Rangers did just enough to win. Mika Zibanejad had one. Chris Kreider too. The penalty kill has been very strong, even without the staples Kevin Rooney, who is on injured reserve with an upper body problem, and Greg McKegg, who was ill.
But the Devils pretty much led the game, although the Blueshirts did a pretty decent job of denying Jack Hughes – who came into the game on a six-point streak (5-7) – the time and the space to work with. . When Hughes had the chance, with the Devils leading 2-1 just over a minute into the third, Jacob Trouba scrambled to deflect the shot from the slot out of harm’s way.
“A bit of instinct, a bit of desperation,” said Trouba, who had a good night’s sleep. “You go down and Igor can see above you. You can get down on one knee and try to take one side of the net, but desperation falls.
Again, there wasn’t much desperation in this one. Nico Hischier, who scored the Devils goal, was a constant threat. The Devils, who had allowed six or more goals in four of their previous 11 games, regularly cleared their area with ease and were rarely forced to scramble. It was one of the team’s most structured performances.
Which again highlights the Blueshirts’ shortcoming on the forecheck. Whether Chairman and CEO Chris Drury will be able to add staff to bolster that effort before the March 21 trade deadline remains open, but it has become at least as glaring a problem as the missing top six.
Another question: Did Filip Chytil’s ultimate winner from the left circle halfway through the second improve his position with Rangers or his value as a trading chip? The answer is: probably both of the above.
You know what was good to see? Adam Fox, who clocked 25:24, throwing a diagonal out from inside his zone to Zibanejad near the New Jersey line. Zibanejad then hit the Kreider, who buried his 36th for the insurance score midway through the third.
Rangers have made more chip plays to clear the area this season. There was less creativity on evasion. Not on this one.
So it’s Winnipeg, then Minnesota, St. Louis and Dallas. Rangers will need to elevate their game. Rangers will need more of the same from Shesterkin.